Sexton to make first pre-season appearance in 12 years at Leinster
Veteran Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton will look to get the show back on the road following his Lions snub by captaining Leinster in Friday night’s pre-season friendly versus Harlequins at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Despite starting in five of the Lions’ six Test matches across the 2013 and 2017 tours in Australia and New Zealand, Sexton fell out of favour with Warren Gatland for this year’s tour to South Africa, the Kiwi selecting Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell as his three travelling out-halves.
Even when there was an injury concern surrounding Russell’s availability, Gatland looked elsewhere and he summoned Test level rookie Marcus Smith to join the tour in Cape Town in early July rather than seek out the services of the far more seasoned Sexton.
Gatland had claimed in May that there were concerns over Sexton’s durability to play matches over consecutive weekends and this criticism was something the Irishman spoke about recently for the first time, explaining: “At the time I was a little bit going, ‘Wow!’ I had just played four games in the Six Nations.
“Yes, I had picked up a knock (with Leinster at Exeter in early April). When you are falling down in the tackle and you get a knee in the side of the head it’s nothing you can do or nothing you can control, but it was gutting to hear that (from Gatland) because I worked so hard before the Six Nations, during the Six Nations to stay fit.
“I thought I had proven by playing three 80 minutes in a row by the end, consecutive weeks, that that (durability issue) would maybe be put to bed but look, they went a certain way. I don’t know if that was just something that he said to the media, I’m not sure, but they went a different way and I just had to move on and accept it.”
LIONS TOUR FALLOUT:
Sexton on being in London on the same July day Marcus Smith got his surprise mid-tour call… and what he made of Warren Gatland's early May criticism of his durability#LionsRugby
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 1, 2021
That acceptance has resulted in Sexton strangely being available to Leinster at the start of a fresh campaign. The IRFU policy has always been to rest their centrally contracted players in the early weeks of a new season. However, such is the changed situation the 36-year-old Sexton now finds himself, he will feature in his first pre-season Leinster friendly since their 2009 Donnybrook clash with London Irish twelve years ago.
He leads an XV that includes new signing Michael Ala’alatoa for his club debut after his arrival from the Crusaders. The other debut-making Leinster starters in a fixture fearturing the reigning PRO14 and Premiership champions are academy players Chris Cosgrave, Rob Russell and Brian Deeny.
LEINSTER (vs Harlequins, Friday)
15. Chris Cosgrave; 14. Rob Russell, 13. Jamie Osborne, 12. Conor O’Brien, 11. James Lowe; 10. Johnny Sexton (capt), 9. Luke McGrath; 1. Peter Dooley, 2. Dan Sheehan, 3. Michael Ala’alatoa, 4. Devin Toner, 5. Brian Deeny, 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Scott Penny, 8. Max Deegan. Reps from: Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, James Tracy, Vakh Abdaladze, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Martin Moloney, Cormac Foley, Ross Byrne, David Hawkshaw, Liam Turner, Niall Comerford.
It hasn't been easy for them seeing their old Harlequins pal wearing different club colours at Newcastle https://t.co/uZuvSj4gPg
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 4, 2021
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